10 May 2020
Eld Ko Swee Chay
At the end of 2019 when we celebrated Christmas and New Year, and even Chinese New Year in the last week of January, none of us expected that 2020 was going to be a very different year, full of troubles and uncertainties and the world would be in turmoil due to the COVID-19 pestilence. Many countries have imposed measures to protect health and prevent the outbreak. Countries and cities worldwide are locked down or have movements restricted, overseas travel banned and borders closed.
In Singapore, over the last three months as the situation became worse with a growing number of infection cases, the Government progressively implemented more and more control measures and movement restrictions. In early April, considering the escalating COVID-19 situation, a Circuit Breaker was introduced initially from 7 April to 4 May and now extended to 1 June. Wearing of masks, “stay at home”, controlled access to wet markets and supermarkets were enforced. Non-essential businesses and services were ordered to stop operation. Offices, schools, tuition centres and institutes of higher learning are closed. Working from home and home-based learning for students were implemented. Restaurants, sports, exercise, entertainment and recreation facilities, and places of worship are shut.
What we have experienced and the impact on our daily lives are unprecedented for all of us. Many things we used to freely do and enjoy and that we took for granted were all of a sudden taken away from us. We are not allowed to visit our loved ones of different households, and our friends, and to have our meals in hawker centres. We are not allowed to gather in church for worship service, prayer and fellowship meetings, and for Bible studies in church or in homes. The global market crashed, companies faced cash flow problems, and some may go bankrupt. Many people have lost their jobs. The list of restrictions and problems go on.
As a Christian, how should we understand and deal with what we are experiencing right now? What should be our attitude and response? Who should we turn to for help?
1. Pestilence in the Bible
A pestilence is a deadly disaster, usually a disease that affects an entire community or even the whole world. Pestilences are contagious, virulent, and devastating. For example, the Black Plague in Europe that killed over thirty percent of the population during the late Middle Ages; the Spanish Flu was an unusually deadly influenza lasting 36 months from Jan 1918 to Dec 1920, infecting 500 million people – about a third of the world’s population at the time, and causing 50 million deaths. COVID-19 is a pestilence that has spread to almost all the countries of the world since the beginning of this year.
The Bible has a lot to say about pestilences. This word appears 48 times in the Scriptures, mainly in the books of Jeremiah (16 times) and Ezekiel (11 times). The word “pestilence” is often translated as “plague” or “disaster”. The Bible also talks about plagues, diseases and sickness. Pestilence implies a greater devastation than mere physical disease, and it incorporates any and all forms of public and mass destruction and often accompanies famine or war (Jer 21:7 & 9, Ezk 7:15).
In the Bible, God warned the people of Israel that He would send a pestilence or disease if they refused to believe and disobeyed Him (Num 14:11-12; Deu 28:15, 21-22, 27-28). A pestilence is usually a sign of God’s judgment on a nation or people (2 Sam 24:13 & 15; Jer 27:8 & 13; Ezk 7:14–15). It could also come from Satan, as it did in the case of Job (Job 2:7). Sometimes God uses sickness for man’s own good and for the glory of God, e.g. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7-9). Whether a pestilence or disease is the result of natural causes, or an act of God as a punishment for sins, or for man’s own good, or the evil design of Satan, they are all permitted by God according to His sovereign will and purpose. Our heavenly Father who is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent knows what is best for His people. He is a great and good God, He will give the very best to His children, those who love Him, trust Him and have faith in Him.
2. Why has God allowed the COVID-19 pestilence to happen in our time?
Throughout the history of mankind, God has allowed humanity to go through difficult times like the Black Plague, WW1, Spanish Flu, WW2, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. The question is why? When things are going well and life is comfortable and peaceful, human beings have the tendency to relax, become complacent, depend on their own strength and to be self-sufficient, and forget the LORD (Deu 6:11-12). It is in times like this that we realise how frail, insignificant and helpless we are. Just a tiny, invisible virus can infect millions of people and take away hundred of thousands of lives, and it has no respect for nations, borders, races, social classes and status and positions. Monies and powers can do nothing to stop the virus from spreading and infecting people. Only in times like this do we stop to think and reflect and bow before the one and only true and living God. It is in unprecedented times that we are reminded to humble ourselves before the Most High God to seek His help. This pestilence has hopefully made many who have drifted away from God to confess, repent and turn back to Him, as well as many lukewarm Christians to start being interested in spiritual things, to pray and restore their relationship with God. The psalmist says that suffering is good for him: “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I may learn thy statutes.” (Ps 119:67 & 71). God is using this global pandemic to test the faith of His people and to teach them to lean on and trust in Him because He is the only one who can protect and keep us.
3. How can believers find Protection and Peace amidst the COVID-19 Pestilence?
As of early May, 3.6 million people worldwide have been infected and more than 250,000 people have died. In Singapore, there are more than 20,000 confirmed cases and 18 deaths have been reported. It was announced the United Nations joined forces with world leaders and the private sectors on an initiative to speed up the development of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. We pray for the vaccines to be available soon, even though medical experts say that this will take time. The Coronavirus is scary because it makes us look at our own mortality as well its impact on the whole world. Obviously, the direct consequence of this pandemic is a global economic and financial crisis. People will naturally be fearful of infections and death; they will panic and worry about salary cuts and no bonuses, and even loss of job; and they will also feel sad because of the stay at home order and movement restrictions. Fresh graduates are concerned about not being able to get a job because of the affected job market. How then can we as children of God find protection and peace in our heart?
3.1 Through God’s Word
More so in times like this, we can find protection, peace, safety, confidence, comfort and strength from the studying, meditation and knowing of God’s Word and all His promises.
The psalmist says: “GOD is our refuge, and strength, a very present help in trouble, Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling therefore. Be still; and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.” (Ps 46:1-3, 10-11).
Jesus said “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27).
May the Word of God comfort and encourage our hearts. Let us be still and know that the LORD God Almighty who created the heaven and earth is our refuge and our strength, and He is with us. As believers, we have the peace from God in our hearts. This peace is a gift of God, that Jesus Christ left behind for the disciples before His ascension to heaven, which is still available to us today; it is a peace that passeth all understanding. The peace that the world talks about is temporal and fragile because it is based on man’s efforts and carnality, and hence is subject to external circumstances. When we sincerely and truly believe and accept that Christ died on the cross for our sins, resurrected and ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, interceding for us as a High Priest, this peace of God is given to us. Knowing God’s Word and promises will strengthen our hearts to overcome fear and anxiety and will help us experience peace and tranquillity, and the fear of suffering and death will depart from us. Our confidence is in God’s Word and truth which is the foundation of our peace. Let our hearts neither be troubled nor afraid. Let us be still, rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing and wait upon the LORD.
3.2 Through Prayer
In the prayer of the dedication of the newly completed house of the LORD, Solomon prayed: “If there be in the land famine, if there be pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust, or if there be caterpiller; if their enemy besiege them in the land of their cities; whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be; What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men;) That they may fear thee all the days that they live in the land which thou gavest unto our fathers.” (1 Ki 8:37-40. c.f. 2 Ch 7:13-14). This was because Israel as a nation was married to the Land as a witness for Christ. The blessing of God for Israel then was both spiritual and material (cf. Lev 26; and Deu 28). This is not so in the witness of the local church. The blessing of God for the church is only spiritual. That is why many churches do not need to have a physical building of their own to be called a church.
As children of God, in trying times like this, all we need to do is continue to pray without ceasing. Humble ourselves, bow before His throne of grace and mercy, to pray and seek His face and mercy, and confess our sins. This is the spiritual blessing. In His mercy and grace, He may heal our land. But whatever the will of God is, we keep trusting and praying knowing that He will always give His best to His children that will draw them closer to Him in devotion, worship and prayer.
3.3 Rest in God’s Protection and Care
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God; in Him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night: nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noon day. There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” (Ps 91:1-6, 10-11).
Our sovereign God promises protection for those who trust in Him. Whatever happens, children of God do not need to fear, for our gracious and loving heavenly Father is in control of all things, including the COVID-19 pestilence. He is our Protector and Deliverer. He wants us to trust in Him. He doesn’t want us to be afraid. He loves us and is watching over and protecting us by His angels. The Coronavirus cannot touch us without His permission. Should it happen according to God’s sovereign will and we leave this world, remember what Apostle Paul said: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:8).
4. Thank God amid COVID-19 Pestilence
While we have to adjust our daily lives to the new laws and regulations and all the inconveniences that come with the Circuit Breaker, let us think of many positive things:
By the providential care of God, many of us are kept safe and healthy and have food on the table. Let us all give thanks to our Almighty Father in Heaven who loves and cares for us. Remember the words of the offertory hymn “Thanks to God” we often sing: “Thanks for thorns as well as roses, Thanks for weakness and for health. Thanks for pain as well as pleasure, All thou sendest day by day. Thanks for grace in time of sorrow, And for joy and peace in thee.” This is the time to exercise our faith and trust in God. Amid great troubles and uncertainties, we can praise and thank Him.
God is still on the throne. God knows what we are going through right now. He is sovereign and is in total control of the affairs of all nations, all peoples and all things including the invisible virus. We as the children of God should know that the COVID-19 pestilence is permitted by Him for the good of mankind. Study God’s Word that our hearts may be comforted, and not be troubled or afraid. Let us be still, rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing and wait upon the LORD. Let us use the redeemed time wisely and lovingly to reach out to brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage them, especially those who are staying alone, and to share the gospel with unsaved people around us.
May the LORD take away all our fears, worries and concerns; protect and watch over us and keep us safe and healthy. May the LORD grant us peace and joy in our hearts in the mighty name of Christ Jesus, bless us and comfort our hearts, strengthen our faith and deepen our trust that we can go through this difficult time, and in the end come out stronger and wiser in the LORD. May the LORD put an end to the COVID-19 pestilence soon according to His sovereign will and timing that we His people can once again assemble in His name and in His house for worship service, prayer meeting, Bible studies and fellowship group meetings. AMEN.